by Georgina Crawshaw
If you like to get wet and wild on holiday Egypt is the place for you. The red sea is world renowned for its scuba diving (and snorkelling) and daytime temperatures sit in the mid to high twenties. Add a brisk five hour flight time from the UK, and water which rarely dips below 20°c, and it’s easy to see why Egypt is top of the winter holiday hot spots. Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab are two of the most popular resorts, and for those of you who prefer to keep your head above water the latter is also a mecca for windsurfing and kite surfing enthusiasts.
If cultures more your thing head to Cairo, home to the Great Pyramid of Giza. Situated on the outskirts of the city, alongside the Sphinx, this incredible feat of engineering is the last surviving wonder of the ancient world. Make sure you also stop in at the Cairo Museum where you can marvel at the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb, including his famous gold funerary mask.
It might be a 12 hour flight to South Africa but the 2 hour time difference and lack of jet lag more than makes up for that. Start in Cape Town where the heady mix of African culture and some of the best food and wine in the southern hemisphere, not to mention the mild Mediterranean climate, create an idyllic winter getaway.
A trip up Table Mountain, on foot, by cable car or even by bicycle, is one not to be missed and Robben Island should also be top of your to-do list; a world heritage site and a poignant reminder of South Africa’s apartheid past. If you can dray yourself away from the city’s tourist attractions and white sandy beaches this country is also famed for its game parks, which boast all of the Big Five – lion, African elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.
If it’s cheap and cheerful you’re after you can’t go wrong with the Canary Islands where, according to the Spanish tourist board, spring lasts 365 days a year. Tenerife is the largest of the islands with Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria not far behind. Lanzarote and La Palma are also popular with winter sun seekers but if you’re looking for something unspoilt try the smaller resorts of El Hierro and La Gomera.
The Canary Islands are most famous for their volcanic origins; Lanzarote alone boasts around 300 volcanoes and Tenerife is home to the majestic Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain and the third largest volcano in the world. As a result the beaches on some of the islands are strewn with black sand but don’t worry, it’s just as good for soaking up those rays!
If you want to rub shoulders with the rich and famous Dubai is the answer. Dubbed the “shopping capital of the Middle East”, this Persian Gulf getaway has more than 70 shopping malls, one of the most expensive hotels in the world (the iconic sail shaped Burj Al Arab) and is overflowing with first class restaurants – including offerings from celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White.
If you can stomach the skyline the beaches are of the sandy white variety and surrounded by lush green vegetation. And if the heat gets too much, head to Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates where you can don some salopettes and cool off on the slopes. Now that’s taking retail therapy to a whole new level!
Thailand literally has it all – from the buzz of Bangkok city life, to the mountainous landscape of the north and, last but by no means least, laid back island living in the south. With its plethora of palm fringed beaches and aquamarine seas this country truly is paradise personified.
The east and west coasts have opposing monsoon seasons so no matter when you visit you’re guaranteed sunshine. At this time of year the islands in the Andaman Sea are your best bet. Phuket is the largest of Thailand’s tropical retreats, and the most popular, but there’s plenty more to choose from including Krabi, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi - the setting for Leonardo DiCaprio’s blockbuster movie The Beach.
Winter is also the best time of year to visit Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. The rainy season is over and temperatures are relatively cool, well, the low thirties at least! Mountain trekking is a must but if your legs aren’t quite up to the challenge you can do it on elephant back. Make sure you treat yourself to a Thai massage afterwards and for food lovers there are plenty of cookery courses to perfect that massaman curry or pad thai recipe – mmmmmm!